PM warns ‘taking liberties’ with distancing could trigger serious infection spike

Boris Johnson’s comments came after the Health Secretary reminded people the Government has powers to close public spaces such as beaches.

Bournemouth
Bournemouth

Boris Johnson has warned people against “taking liberties” with social distancing rules as he said it could lead to the danger of a “serious spike” in coronavirus infections.

The comments come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government will take action if distancing measures are ignored as thousands flocked to the south coast on the hottest day of the year.

Speaking during a visit to a restaurant in east London ahead of an easing of lockdown on July 4, the Prime Minister said: “If you look at what’s happening elsewhere in the world where people have been coming out of lockdown, I’m afraid what you’re also seeing is people taking too many liberties with the guidance, mingling too much, not observing social distancing.

“So in some parts of the world – I won’t name them – you have got spikes, really serious spikes, in the instance of the disease, so it is crucial that people understand that on July 4 we get this right, we do this in a balanced way.”

Despite Mr Hancock’s warning of possible beach closures, Downing Street signalled such a move would be a matter for local authorities.

Pressed on whether the Government would close beaches, a Number 10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “It is for local authorities to manage numbers.

“I believe Matt Hancock, when he spoke, was referring to the powers to impose localised lockdowns which we have been clear throughout may need to be the case if we see case numbers rise in a particular area.”

Mr Hancock told TalkRadio on Thursday the Government had the power to close public areas such as beaches if people flout safety restrictions.

It comes as Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council declared a major incident after services were “completely overstretched” as huge numbers of visitors crowded onto the beaches during the day.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty later urged people to follow social distancing rules in the hot weather or risk causing a spike in coronavirus.

He wrote on Twitter: “Covid-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation.

“If we do not follow social distancing guidance then cases will rise again.

“Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all.”

In an interview with TalkRadio, Mr Hancock said he was “reluctant” to go down the route of shutting public spaces as “people have had a pretty tough lockdown”.

But he added that if there was a spike in the number of coronavirus cases “then we will take action”.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said extra police patrols had to be brought in following the “irresponsible” behaviour of crowds who gridlocked roads, dumped rubbish, abused refuse collectors and parked illegally.

Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak during a visit to the Pizza Pilgrims restaurant in east London (Heathcliff O’Malley/The Daily Telegraph/PA)

Meanwhile, thousands of Liverpool fans flocked to Anfield on Thursday night to celebrate the club’s Premier League title.

Temperatures soared to 33.4C (92.12F) at Heathrow Airport in west London on Thursday, making it the hottest day of the year so far.

However, one scientist warned on Friday about the dangers of “over-stating” the number of people breaking social distancing rules.

Professor Stephen Reicher, speaking in his capacity as a member of the group known as Independent Sage, said aerial shots of the beaches suggested “most people were still trying to keep a two metre distance”.

He told a press conference: “The danger of over-stating the problem is that you create a norm.

“You’re told that everybody else is breaking the lockdown, and it makes you think there’s no point in me doing it as well.”

Warmest UK June temperatures
(PA Graphics)

He added: “Maintain social and physical distancing, but let’s not underestimate the people who are adhering and the atypicality of those who are not.”

In other developments:

– Police chiefs said people must take “more personal responsibility” when Covid-19 lockdown measures are further eased on July 4 as fines for breaches dropped to their lowest level

– Former Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said trying to control any possible Covid-19 outbreaks this autumn and winter could be like playing a game of whack-a-mole

– Men working in social care have more than double the risk of death from Covid-19 as those in the general population, while women have twice the risk, according to new figures

– At least 2,500 volunteers are being recruited to test the reliability of Covid-19 home-based antibody testing kits

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